Gwyneth Paltrow insisted Friday on the witness stand that a ski collision at an upscale Utah ski resort in 2016 wasn’t her fault, claiming the man suing her smashed into her from behind with his two skis.
Ms. Paltrow testified that the crash shocked her – and at first, she worried that she was being violated.
“There was a body pressing against me and a very strange grunting noise,” she said.
“My brain was trying to make sense of what was happening,” the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer added, clarifying on the stand that the collision was not a sexual violation.
Ms. Paltrow and Terry Sanderson, the retired optometrist who is suing her, are both expected to answer questions about the crash while their attorneys jostle to convince the eight-member jury which skier was positioned downhill and who had the right of way.
Throughout Ms. Paltrow’s heavily anticipated testimony, the founder-CEO of Goop has calmly and repeatedly said that Mr. Sanderson, who sat several feet away in court, crashed into her. To draw attention to her wealth and privilege, Mr. Sanderson’s lawyers have probed Ms. Paltrow about the price of ski instructors at Deer Valley Resort – and her decision to leave the mountain to get a massage the day of the crash that broke four of Mr. Sanderson’s ribs and left him concussed.
Mr. Sanderson and his four-member legal team dispersed themselves across the courtroom to re-enact the crash for the jury, whose members perked up after days of yawning through jargon-dense medical testimony.
Ms. Paltrow’s attorneys objected to her participation in such a re-enactment. Throughout the week in Utah, her legal team has asked for special restrictions, including limiting photography both in the courtroom and in the public parking lot outside – where a rope cordons off Ms. Paltrow’s entrance and exit paths.
Next week, Ms. Paltrow’s team is expected to call to the stand medical experts, ski instructors and her two children, Moses and Apple.
The trial has touched on themes ranging from skier’s etiquette to the power – and burden – of celebrity.
After the collision, Mr. Sanderson sent his daughters an e-mail with the subject line: “I’m famous ... At what cost?” One of the daughters wrote back: “I also can’t believe this is all on GoPro.”
GoPro cameras are commonly worn by outdoor athletes and patrons of upscale ski resorts to capture action sports.
Mr. Sanderson’s daughter, Shae Herath, testified Friday that she didn’t know whether GoPro footage existed, despite her e-mail. She said her father told her over the phone that he assumed there must be GoPro footage of the collision – from someone on the crowded run with a camera affixed to their helmet.
“There was this big, blood-curdling scream. Someone would’ve looked,” Ms. Herath said, recalling the conversation with her father about how Ms. Paltrow shrieked during their collision.
While Mr. Sanderson’s attorneys have focused on their client’s deteriorating health, Ms. Paltrow’s legal team has intrigued the jury with recurring questions about the mysterious, missing GoPro footage. No video footage has since been located or entered as evidence.
The trial thus far has shone a spotlight on Park City, Utah – the posh ski town known for rolling out a red carpet for celebrities each January during the Sundance Film Festival – and skiers-only Deer Valley Resort, where Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Sanderson collided. The resort is among the most upscale in North America, known for sunny slopes, apres-ski champagne yurts and luxury lodges.
The proceedings have delved deep into the 76-year-old Mr. Sanderson’s medical history and personality changes, with attorneys questioning whether his deteriorating health and estranged relationships stemmed from the collision or natural process of aging.
After a judge threw out Mr. Sanderson’s earlier US$3.1-million lawsuit, Mr. Sanderson then claimed damages of “more than $300,000.” Ms. Paltrow has countersued for a symbolic US$1 and attorney fees. In 2017, Taylor Swift similarly countersued a radio host for the same, symbolic amount of US$1.
The amount of money at stake for both sides pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit, private security detail and expert witness-heavy trial.
Lawyers for Ms. Paltrow spent much of Thursday raising questions about Mr. Sanderson’s mentions of their client’s wealth and celebrity as well as what they called his “obsession” with the lawsuit.
The first three days of the trial featured testimony from medical experts, Mr. Sanderson’s personal doctor, a ski companion and his daughter, who said she noticed post-concussion symptoms less than a year after the accident.
Her lawyers Thursday asked Mr. Sanderson’s daughter whether her father thought it was “cool” to collide with a celebrity like Ms. Paltrow, the Oscar-winning star of Shakespeare in Love and founder-CEO of lifestyle brand, Goop.
Ms. Paltrow’s attorneys have cast doubt on Mr. Sanderson’s medical experts and suggested that the lawsuit could be an attempt to exploit her fame and celebrity.